Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die. So say the lyrics to the opening song “Life Is” from the rarely seen 1968 musical Zorba by the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb. The book by Joseph Stein was adapted from the novel Zorba The Greek. Even though there are some humorous moments, the show was more of a musical tragedy than a musical comedy. There are three deaths during the course of the musical, surely less than in Sweeney Todd but more than in the duo’s earlier Cabaret and the same amount as in West Side Story. The L.A. Civic Light Opera presented the National Tour in 1970 in a cast headed by John Raitt and Chita Rivera. A 1983 revival featuring two of the 1964 film’s stars—Anthony Quinn and Lila Kedrova–also played the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion before heading back to Broadway where it played more performances than the original run. Raitt reprised the title role for Fullerton Civic Light Opera in 1990 but little has been seen of the lusty, life-loving Greek since then.
That drought ended Sunday, November 11 when Musical Theatre Guild presented a staged concert version at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. A lively cast of 19 filled the stage with light, energy and lovely voices as they told the tale of Zorba, the shy, awkward American schoolteacher Niko, and their adventures with the inhabitants of a small town on the island of Crete. Niko (Dino Nicandros) has inherited an abandoned mine he hopes to reopen. The wily Zorba (Michael Kostroff) ingratiates himself and soon proves to be indispensable as a man of many talents. On the island they take residence at the home of former French courtesan Madame Hortense (Eydie Alyson) who is soon enjoying the pleasures of the flesh with Zorba. Niko finds himself attracted to the mysterious Widow (Tal Fox), who is hated by jealous townspeople. The two soon find themselves in a heated and tragic relationship.
Kostroff and Nicandros have great chemistry together, like father and son, teacher and pupil, BFF’s. Kostroff’s mischievous machinations provide the humor as do his “stories,” of which he has one for every occasion. Nicandros and Fox have a lovely “taking a chance on love” duet—“Why Can’t I Speak?/That’s a Beginning”. Alyson is delightful as the aging Hortense, especially when regaling the men with her former adventures with four warring admirals in the show-stopping “No Boom Boom.” She is heartbreaking in her finale “Happy Birthday.” Eileen Barnett is in great voice as The Leader, sort of a musical Greek Chorus who also acts as a benevolent Angel of Death. Her number “The Crow” is one you won’t soon forget. Musical director Brad Ellis led the six-piece band through the bouzouki flavored score. Choreographer Cheryl Baxter provided the cast with some Greek dance moves while director Alan Bailey kept the pacing tight as he built the show’s tension. “Y’Assou” to all!
Minnie’s Boys is next for Musical Theatre Guild, February 10 at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Ave. in Glendale.